Psychological Warfare: Theory and Practical Implications

Nuno Rodriguez; director, political scientist, an analyst at Quixote Globe is a political expert in the niches of media and propaganda, intelligence and counter-intelligence, and psychological warfare, to name a few. The seventh lecture hosted by AIRS on ‘Psychological Warfare Theory and Practical Implications’ was thus undertaken by Nuno Rodriguez, where he commenced the lecture by stating a lack of analysis present in the discipline of psychological warfare, despite it being an important tool employed to control politics and govern democracies across the globe that translates to the planned use of communications to influence human attitudes and behaviours. 

The lecture was broadly categorised into three sections – the use of psychological warfare during the First World War, the Second World War and the cold war followed by a brief glance at what psychological warfare looks like in the present day. To keep the lecture as lucid as possible, he began by stating the basic definition of Psychological Warfare being the study/analysis of the mind and behaviour of people or a population during an open conflict. This indicated that war is fought not just on the battlefields, but is translated into people’s minds as well- one’s own population as well as the enemy population. Psychological Warfare is always disguised as entertainment in order to be considered effective propaganda, for example, cinema, books, radio, etc. The importance of Psychological Warfare was reinstated by historic accounts of the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongols, Alexander the Great, etc who used psychological tools to influence soldiers and civic population alike. To examine the use of Psychological Warfare in modern times, he moved on to examine the use of psychological tools during the First World War- how people’s opinions, emotions, and behaviour of the enemy and the indigenous population was influenced using said tools. 

During the first World War, the usage of mass media was limited to that of newspapers, pamphlets, leaflets, cultural events, painters, writers, books, magazines, etc all of which were tools used to spread propaganda. Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists were using scientific methods to test propagandas, making them an equally important war tool when compared to bombs and arsenal. The US set up a Committee of Public Information, also known as the Editorial Committee directed by George Creel. The goal of this committee was to influence public opinion of the population of US with regards to the war on Europe. The committee applied various tools of psychology and created news, pictures and illustration to mould public opinion in a direction favouring the US government. The Editorial Committee also set up offices in various foreign nations of Europe, America and Asia with the goal of making sure neutral nations do not extend their support to Germany. They employed psychological tools such as cinema, newspapers, writers and celebrities to do the same. The tools of propaganda were no secret, they were done publicly. For the English, psychological warfare was effective only when the emotions of people, operative skills of the army and that of political leaders were all in sync. The English Propaganda’s goal was to break this trinity of elements. They demoralised the German population via the use of leaflets, pamphlets and spread atrocity propaganda. There were growing socialist agitations within the German Army and therefore, the link between the elements was broken. As a result of the English propaganda, the German population only wanted to witness the end of world war instead of enlisting in the army and fighting on battlefields.  

During the Second World War, the psychological warfare was much more developed especially because radio was used massively as a tool to spread propaganda. Propaganda here can be categorised into three broad categories, namely – white (known source), black (disguised/unknown source) and grey. The radio as a medium consisted of black propaganda, for example, the music program “Tokyo Rose” which was used to affect the psychology of American soldiers and demoralise them. German propagandists were repeatedly broadcasting their slogans and spreading fake news in an attempt to brainwash the population.  

Post the Second World War, Psychological Warfare stopped being just a war tool and expanded itself into the arena of political governance as well. It was used as a tool by the United States President to persuade its population for participating in the cold war. On the other hand, the Soviet Union used psychological warfare by misinforming western outlets and preventing the spread of any outside persuasion within its nation. Psychological Warfare was soon a part of public diplomacy as well, working the way Creel Commission did. Soon, numerous Public Relations firms were set up across the globe that worked for foreign governments and prompted their ideologies. An apt example of psychological warfare used as a strategic influence was the Marshall Plan proposed by the US government post the Second World War. In situations of conflict, psychological warfare is a continuous process that works towards preparing the minds of the population for what is to come. Psychological warfare makes sure that the blame is always put to the enemy so as to win the loyalties of their own population, in times of external conflict. 

Viewed from the present day lens, a neurological aspect is added to psychological warfare, i.e., an inclusion of neurons, a physical component of the brain. Psychological warfare has therefore, moved past plain psychology and now includes neuroscience as well, in order to affect the minds of the population. They do so by understanding the chemical compositions of the brain and the biological aspects that affect the functioning and cognitive aspects of the brain. This could be employed via secret medicines, secret drugs, etc. Therefore, in the future, psychological warfare will be more intricate as everything will be put to a biological and chemical test with regards to the constitution of the brain. Elements of propaganda will still be in place, and they will be further fuelled by the elements of neuroscience that will break the resistance of minds towards these propagandas. 

The lecture was then followed by a round of Q and A from the participants. A prominent one among them was pertaining to the use of psychological warfare not just by governments, but also power elites, economic think tanks, enterprises and conglomerations. Propaganda is of two types- sociological and political. Political propaganda is present for a short duration and it focuses on a specific political activity/event whereas social propaganda is a long drawn process that prepares, shapes and shifts ideological beliefs and philosophies of people. In the backdrop of a multi-polar world, psychological warfare will have to become even more subjective and analyse various societies and cultures of the world through different lenses. In the age of social media and BOTs, psychological warfare now has a much wider scope and various tools present at its end. 

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